The indie rock explosion of the 2010s was something few people foresaw. Acts like fun., Neon Trees, Mumford & Sons and Gotye were able to burst through the wrought-iron bars that for so long seemed to hold their genre back from radio success. The triumph of these artists gave Las Vegas band Imagine Dragons their opportunity to shine through with their 2012 debut album, “Night Visions.”
Three years and a Grammy Award win later, the four-piece band is back at it with the release of their follow-up, “Smoke + Mirrors.”
Holding strong to their Coldplay-influenced arena rock, “Smoke + Mirrors” retains most of what endeared Imagine Dragons to fans on their debut album, while covertly creating a more rock-based sound in the process. They throw all the bells and whistles into the mix, making for a bigger, bolder collection of songs that, although having their hits and misses, manage to be offbeat and captivating.
Lyrically, the album shines. Lead singer Dan Reynolds croons, roars and falsettos his way through his heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics, his performance carrying the album through some of its missteps.
The album opens with the chiming guitar of “Shots,” where Reynolds exclaims “I’m so sorry for everything/everything I’ve done” before an EDM beat kicks in. Right off the bat, Reynolds’ vocals stand out through each verse.
“Shots” rolls into “Gold,” which incorporates Yeezus-esque yelps, whistles and stomps. While not a bad track, its lacks replay value or the earworm hooks from previous ID songs like “Radioactive.”
The first highlight of the album is the title track, “Smoke and Mirrors.” The down-tempo tune is driven by the vocal hooks Reynolds supplies in the chorus, alternating between a falsetto and a feral shriek. The song ends on a high note thanks to a fervent guitar solo from Wing Sermon.
Jumping ahead to the lead single, “I Bet My Life,” this track is a radio-ready pop number whose anthemic gang-vocal chorus is sure to have you singing along.
Another strong track, “It Comes Back To You,” is a mid-tempo jam that opens with a U2-inspired riff that hands the song off to Reynolds who asks, “Am I just a shadow you drew?”
The next track, “Dream,” features ID’s signature stomps and claps, accompanied by a piano, until it erupts into a fiery chorus. The slower tracks on the album, like “Dream,” show off what the band does well and what they are capable of when at their best.
The 11th track, “Summer,” is a song that would sound at home on a Coldplay record. The track sees Reynolds doing his best Chris Martin impression and nailing it as he and the Sermon’s guitar playing power the song, making it the highlight of the back-half of the record.
The album ends with “The Fall,” a laid back six-minute track that flows effortlessly into a quiet interlude before turning up for a two-minute outro to close out the album. This sentimental track about autumn closes with Reynolds at a near whisper, saying “I’m ready for the Fall/Ready for the leaves/Ready for the colors to burn to gold and crumble away.”
Imagine Dragons has flourished into one of the biggest rock bands in the world over the course of the last three years. With this record, the band helped solidify their own sound and they continue to craft some of the best radio rock this side of Fall Out Boy. “Smoke + Mirrors” likely won’t be winning them another Grammy, but the band could have done much worse with a sophomore album.